Are we about to witness a new wave of youth in revolt?
There is a trade war raging between China and the US, immigrants are facing prejudice, religious piety often leads to zealotry, India and Pakistan are locked in another bout of verbal jousting, Syria is still in turmoil, Honk Kong is seeing an outburst of public anger.
With the world in such strife, it’s possibly that this is the right time to have another Woodstock, another rise of youth power and free love.
50 years on, since the iconic music festival just outside New York, attended by 400,000 people, the core theme of the gathering -- peace, love, and music -- seems more relevant today than ever.
The 60s’ counter-culture revolution epitomizing a rebellious young generation rising against orthodox views, plus unjust conflict and abuse of human rights, was based on the rejection of flimsy/implausible explanations of global events by the authority.
For good reason, the most compelling slogan of the time was “do not trust anyone over 30.”
It was not just sex, drugs, and rock and roll
To many, the swinging 60s conjures up the image of wanton sex, free love without restrictions topped with a heavy dose of rock and roll.
There’s no denying that youth culture of the time, inspired by a desire to revolt against everything conventional and tediously restrictive, chose a path of extremes.
However, in that upsurge of ferocious force was the desire to strike at the heart of flawed political systems. The Vietnam War was raging and possibly was the first conflict which could be seen on TV.
While the US tried to justify the intervention in Vietnam, the blatant imperial design was too pronounced to hide. Many may disagree but the unfair use of power was most reflected through the American role in Vietnam which galvanized millions of youth across the world against war.
The counter-culture revolution, extreme freedom craved by the young, and the vocal advocacy for peace seemed to be the by-product of the Cuban Missile Crisis in 1962 when the world came to the brink of Armageddon.
It’s quite possible that with the Cold War dividing two major powers in the world and the spectre of annihilation hanging over the head of most, the tendency was to break away from the shackles of rules, regulations, and puritanical mores and live life to the fullest.
Well, if hedonism had been the sole driving force then we would not be talking about counter-culture and the Woodstock anymore.
In between all that unrestrained exhilaration, there was also a force to challenge social divisions, prejudice, unjust warfare, and policies to subjugate other nations.
One slogan: “America has gone to pot” captures the surge of renegade ideals influencing outlook and even socio-political moves around the globe.
Vietnam triggered a global anti-imperial outrage
The late 60s was a time to revolt, a decade of watershed moments in pretty much all areas of life -- man landed on the moon, maverick musicians topped the charts, avant-garde writers showed audacity in writing about taboo topics with an anti-imperialist mood sweeping the young across the world.
Bangladesh, the then East Pakistan, was not immune from the global spread of revolutionary ideals either. Discontent had been simmering against the rule of West Pakistan for some time and the young found plenty of inspiration from the Vietnam conflict, where David was taking on Goliath and winning.
Throughout the 70s and 80s, the spirit of the 60s global youth uprisings continued to inspire the young in Bangladesh. As a university student in the early 90s, we regularly saw young political activists trying to unite students with rousing anti-imperial slogans dating back from the 60s.
The whole culture of iconoclasm came to a head in Woodstock in 1969, a festival which transcended music and a simple call for peace.
One can look at the festival as just another concert where people just went berserk but from another angle, the deranged activities like lying on the mud, kissing openly, dancing without clothes can be taken as an expression of total freedom from blinkered concepts and stifling social norms.
No wonder, one of the most popular expressions of the time: “Be here, now.”
So, do we need another Woodstock?
The point is, to have another global youth movement, there needs to be a crucible. Roughly put, the 60s counter-culture movement emanated from the USA and UK, spreading to other countries.
But then, the age was right for the young to feel rebellious everywhere.
Some sociologists say that after decades of austerity and grim economic conditions in the West, the 60s brought affluence and wealth which then provided the fertile ground for the young to stop obeying to take a stand.
Come to think of it, history is replete with incidences of the young rising against oppression or repressive systems. Right now, in Hong Kong, a whole generation is on the move. Today, they are on every media channel in the world. Another counter culture uprising, no doubt.
Question is -- will this morph into something solid and manage to survive?
One can only remember the counter-culture exhortation to live the moment and forget the future. Just like the slogan “due to lack of interest, tomorrow has been cancelled.”
Towheed Feroze is News Editor at Bangla Tribune and teaches at the University of Dhaka.